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The Principles of a Startup [SKIP 2020]

Spencer Hawke (BSBA '21)
July 27, 2020

My name is Spencer Hawke, and I am a Finance major in the class of 2021. This summer, I have had the privilege to intern at Well Principled, a St. Louis based startup founded by WashU alumni. WP makes artificial intelligence software that optimizes marketing and supply chain strategy for major CPG brands and retailers. Through their MBA programs in Olin, the founders were exposed to cutting edge academic models to make business decisions. However, after spending time working at Fortune 500 companies, they were surprised that these models were seldom used in practice. Well Principled built a product designed to bridge this “practice-gap” and empower experienced business leaders with optimized decisions at scale. 

WP’s product is driven by constant, customer-centric R&D with the goal of creating new and uniquely valuable solutions. This innovation is the result of a deliberate and rigid process that aligns with the organization’s main question: what is the principled way to accomplish this? WP’s platform aims to provide companies with the well principled solution, and WP follows the same process for their internal innovation practices. 

As an intern at WP, while my daily responsibilities varied day-to-day, they always tied back to a central theme: customer-centric innovation. My main goal was to apply WP’s innovation process to identify areas of opportunity in the product line. My first project was to do competitive intelligence for some of WP’s products. I researched competitors and compiled a database of the capabilities of each solution and recorded feedback from their customers. Another project involved researching a new product, which would project a company’s valuation based on a customer’s behavior. In addition to studying the methodology, I also spent time brainstorming applications of the product, and how WP’s customers could benefit from it. My last notable task was to develop wireframes to redesign WP’s website. My primary consideration for each design was: how do I design this page so that the customer gets exactly what they need from it? I had to select the most relevant, convincing information and determine how to format it so that it would be easy to locate and digest.

In addition to my responsibilities as an intern, I also participated in company-wide discussions about WP’s culture. Ryan Richt, the CEO, is very deliberate about cultivating a strong culture throughout the company, and everyone is involved in shaping the ideals that the company operates on. For example, one afternoon, we had a company-wide meeting to discuss new proposals for company values. Everyone had a passion for the subject, and the discussion even involved debate over specific wording within each value. For me, this experience cemented the idea that WP is a highly collaborative environment, and that everyone in the organization is committed to the idea of succeeding together. 

Finally, maybe my favorite part of working at WP was being exposed to the smart, highly motivated people that work here. Even with the challenges of communicating virtually, I was able to have one-on-one time with each employee at WP, and I was able to learn about their lives and careers. I consider this one of the most valuable benefits of this experience and am fortunate to have met everyone at WP.